Loving the Marquess(7)

By: Suzanna Medeiros

She’d run to her room, thrown herself on her bed, and cried. Before long, her father came to her, gathered her into his arms, and promised to take care of them. That he’d never drink again.

He’d kept that promise until the night, years later, when Henry Manning had come across her father in the village. She remembered vividly the shame in her father’s face when he’d later recounted what happened. They had started discussing her mother and Manning had taken him to the tavern and ordered a round of drinks. Not wishing to insult him, her father had decided there was no harm in having one drink. It had been almost ten years since Mama’s death and he hadn’t touched a drop in all that time. But one drink had turned to two, then three, and finally he’d lost count.

Louisa remembered how Henry Manning had brought him home, none the worse himself for having spent hours drinking with her father. She’d been angry at his smug demeanor that night. That anger had turned to despair the next day when he’d arrived to tell them they had one week to gather their belongings before he took possession of their home and their lands. He’d produced the promissory note her father signed the previous evening, and ashamed, her father had confessed what he’d done. He’d allowed Manning to talk him into joining a card game that was in full swing at an adjoining table. Losing steadily, he’d become more and more reckless with each drink until he’d lost everything. He’d behaved like an immature youth squandering his newly acquired inheritance.

They’d moved out of their manor house one week later, taking only what they could fit into the much smaller cottage Manning allowed them to have on the border of what had once been their estate.

“What’s the matter?”

John’s voice brought Louisa back to the present. She could see the concern on her brother’s face and briefly considered not telling him what she’d learned. She quickly discarded the notion, though, knowing he’d find out soon enough.

“Our guest,” she said, glancing quickly at her closed bedroom door. She lowered her voice so Overlea wouldn’t overhear them. “I know who he is.”

“And…?” John prompted when she paused.

There was nothing for it but to tell him straight out. “The new Marquess of Overlea.”

John swore and started for her room. She threw herself into his path to stop him.

“What are you planning to do?”

“Throw the swine out on his ear, as he deserves.”

“Lower you voice. He’ll hear you.”

“That was my intent,” he said, his voice now louder.

Throwing her weight against him, she pushed her brother back into his room. Once there, she closed the door and leaned against it, barring his exit. She was surprised he’d allowed her to stop him, but her surprise turned to concern when he walked to his side table and picked up the loaded pistol that rested there.

“You are not throwing him out. He may be seriously injured from his fall.”

“I don’t care. I’m the head of the family now. Father never allowed a Manning in this house while he was alive, and nothing has changed now that he’s gone.” He took a step toward her. “Move away from the door, Louisa.”

She was determined her brother would not have his way in this.

“I’m the eldest here,” she said. “I’ve run this household for years now, and I’ll continue to do so. I will not throw an injured man out on the road.”

“Pity the Mannings have no such qualms.”

“Overlea is no danger to us in his current condition. And in any case, he cannot be blamed for something his uncle did years ago, no more than you are to blame for Father’s behavior the night he gambled away our home.”

A flush of anger crept up his face, but she knew she’d made her point. As long as her brother never learned about what had transpired between her and the marquess in her bedroom, he wouldn’t confront Overlea.

Breakfast was a tense affair. Louisa kept expecting her brother to say something harsh to the marquess and couldn’t relax. He surprised her by holding his tongue, but what was more surprising was Catherine’s silence. From the looks she cast in Overlea’s direction, it was clear her sister was curious about their guest, but she seemed determined to remain faithful to their father’s edict that all Mannings be treated as the enemy.

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